Docent Reports Autry Museum Is Closing Southwest Museum

southwestmuseum[Edit: 4:02pm 12/16/09: This story has been confirmed by Nicole Possert, a representative of Friends Of the Southwest Museum. See the comments for her info on the subject. -LM]

After a hellacious history of back-and-forth between these two institutions–the struggling, in-need-of-repairs building by Angeleno pioneer Charles Fletcher Lummis that is the Southwest Museum Of the American Indian, and the larger, better-funded Autry National Center, adjacent to the LA Zoo–it looks like what many feared has come to pass. The Autry, which acquired the Southwest Museum & its collections several years ago, had made promises to the community to preserve & repair both the collection and the Southwest Museum itself. However, this just came across my desk:

“To Whom It May Concern,

I have been both a member and a volunteer/docent with the Southwest Museum since 1985. Last Saturday, 12/12/2009, the docents had their annual holiday gathering at the museum. John Gray made a surprise appearance, and announced to our group that the Southwest Museum site at Mt. Washington would be closing to the general public. The reason he gave was that they needed space for artifact restoration and conservation. He said that after 12/31/2009, the bookstore area will be closed and used to do work on the bead-work portion of the collection. Any public events now taking place at the museum will cease. Museum access will be given only to museum members…–for example, the monthly tours of the building. It was unclear whether the NELA art openings would be open to the public or members only (the next show is 1/23/2010). No public annoucement would be made regarding either the closing of the store or the site itself.

With this action, the Southwest Museum is now officially a storehouse and conservation site, nothing more. Mr. Gray stated that it would not open again for at least three years and perhaps longer pending need. He stated the future plan for the site was still to create a cultural center, exhibition space and education facilities. This was the plan that came out of the public meetings held in 2006 by the The Human Rights Commission of L.A. Since there is no contractual obligation to move forward with this plan after negotiations ended last fall with the city, the Autry’s word becomes its sole binding agreement for the future of the site. With the miscommunication and lack of transparency about the future of the Southwest Museum since the initial agreement was signed back in 2003, it is difficult to believe that the Autry will honor its previous agreement. This latest action shows clearly that the Autry’s long-term commitment to Southwest Museum is questionable and doubtful. The closing of the site to the general public is contary to both the wishes of the community at large and the L.A. City Council.

Michael Wyman
SWM Docent”

I can’t find any info anywhere else about this report. Can anyone confirm or deny?


13 Replies to “Docent Reports Autry Museum Is Closing Southwest Museum”

  1. Last I heard, the intent was to close down the Southwest and create a 100,000 sq. foot expansion at the Griffith Park property (Autry Museum) to house the collection at Southwest. The Autry has been trying to close the Southwest Museum since 2003 or thereabouts.

  2. It’s confirmed and more news below:

    Autry’s Decision to a Complete Closure of the Southwest Museum Shuts Off All Public Access to the First Museum in Los Angeles;
    Autry Returns Scarce State Funding Secured for Southwest Museum

    Statement from Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition

    “The revelation that Autry intends to ‘quietly’ completely close the Southwest Museum to the general public on December 31st is the latest proof of Autry’s continued disrespect to our community, to the City of Los Angeles and to the history of the Southwest,” said Nicole Possert, Chairperson for the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition.

    In 2003, Autry merged with the Southwest Museum with the stated intent to save the Southwest Museum institution. In the ensuing seven years, Autry has done just the opposite. It has not complied with the legal merger agreement and Autry’s pattern of contrarian actions proves that they never intended to stay and continue to operate the first museum in Los Angeles.

    “This is the last stab in Autry’s ‘death by a 1,000 cuts’ strategy to kill the first museum in Los Angeles and take for themselves the priceless Southwest Museum Collection,” continued Possert. “Wake up Los Angeles. Our history is unnecessarily going away.”

    This news piles on top of more negative news and a financial red-flag alert. Autry recently returned scarce grant funds to the State of California for over $160,000 to waterproof the historic tunnel entrance to the Southwest Museum – the entryway with unique dioramas used by schoolchildren coming by bus and visitors using public transportation (Southwest Museum Metro Gold station and Metro Bus lines are immediately adjacent).

    The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition had originally supported that grant request and is alarmed by Autry’s actions of disinvestment in the promised rehabilitation of the Southwest Museum and our community. “In light of Autry’s financial condition, this is a strange and illogical way to be a responsible steward and uphold their fiduciary responsibilities to the merger,” concluded Possert.

    The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition has watched, warned and worked to prevent this from occurring. Self-labeled IMBY’s (In My Back Yard), the Coalition has worked to keep the Southwest Museum a key museum destination for Los Angeles. It has proposed various win-win solutions including a modest expansion of the Mt. Washington site for more exhibition space, supported Autry’s artifact conservation efforts and fundraising activities for the rehabilitation of the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe. Each time, Autry rejected the Coalition’s attempts at support and solutions.

    Councilmember Jose Huizar’s office has been working with City staff to review funding options to keep the Southwest Museum open and requested a meeting with Autry to discuss any financing options. The Coalition strongly urges the Autry to meet with Councilmember Huizar and actively secure a solution to re-open the Southwest Museum as a museum to the public, as promised.

    There is a trigger option, soon expiring on the Southwest Museum, allowing the Autry board to begin selling off parts or all of the priceless Collection, including the two historic museums – the Casa de Adobe and the Southwest Museum.

  3. Woah, woah, woah! This article is so one-sided and misrepresenting the facts. The Autry is trying to help the Southwest! It is falling apart! Without the Autry it would have closed years ago. I think you need to get both sides of the story here.

  4. Martha, I tried to email you but it didn’t go through. If you know of any good sources of info on the other side of this issue who would like to speak with me, let me know. lucindamichele (at) metblogs (dot) com.

    I’ve watched this issue for a while & read the arguments & the various bits of legislation that have floated around regarding the problem. I really do tend to side with the Southwest Museum on this. I know most folks at the Autry think they’re doing a good thing, but it’s my opinion the Autry isn’t listening very carefully to the problems the Southwest is really trying to grapple with.

    I could be wrong. I often am. But if this blog post is spun in favor of the groups who oppose Autry management of the property & the collection, well, it’s cause so far I believe what they’re saying. :\

  5. Sorry, my firewall likely blocked your email. I wish I could give you a source. Did you try the Autry? From my outsiders point of view, the Friends of the Southewst Museum want to have their cake (the funding the Autry can get them, that they weren’t able to raise themselves) and eat it too (an independent museum that is run on their narrow terms in an economically and physically infeasible way.) The Autry has been struggling in the economy, just like MOCA and all the museums in Los Angeles. The Friends of the Southwest seem like children whining that they don’t like the presents Santa brought them. I love the Autry, it is a beautiful place. If the people who are in charge of the Autry were in charge of the huge collection that the Southwest has locked away in storage, that would be a great thing!

  6. Wait a minute, Martha comments first with “Woah, woah, woah! This article is so one-sided…” then comes back oh to so one-sidedly write “The Friends of the Southwest seem like children whining that they don’t like the presents Santa brought them.”

    Looks like someone drank from the double standard trough when what they needed is a cuppa simma-down.

  7. The Friends of the Southwest Museum are asking for what Autry promised in the 2003 merger agreement. In 2007 John Gray made a long list of promises to Councilman Jose Huizar regarding upgrades and programs at the Southwest Museum, vowing that it would return as a functioning museum. Last summer Huizar asked the Autry to keep John Gray’s promises. The Autry blew him off by withdrawing from the negotiation. The whining is not about what the Friends have, it’s about the promises Autry made to get the collection for no money. Now that they have the collection, they are shrugging off the promises. The Southwest Museum was doing as well as the Autry does at the time of the merger. Denigrating Northeast LA and the Southwest is a way Autry changes the subject from their broken promises.

  8. What would be nice to see is a smaller version of the SW Museums goodies housed temporarily in the Autry while the SW gets revamped. Sorta like what the Getty did with the Malibu Villa. I can dream can’t I?

  9. “Last Saturday, 12/12/2009, the docents had their annual holiday gathering at the museum. John Gray made a surprise appearance, and announced to our group that the Southwest Museum site at Mt. Washington would be closing to the general public.”

    Merry f’n Christmas!

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